Burton Albion finished with nine men as they slumped to another away defeat, this time at play-off chasing Oxford United. Club captain Darren Moore was shown a straight red card for bringing down James Constable in the area leading to Oxford's second goal and the Brewers had to complete the last twelve minutes of the match with nine when Tom Parkes picked up a second booking of the afternoon for a foul, again on Constable.
Two goals from experienced front man Steve Maclean, the second in the final minute of the game, completed a miserable afternoon for the Brewers who now have to regroup to scope with suspensions to both of their centre halves and also Russell Penn who picked up his tenth booking of the season to earn himself a two game suspension starting on Wednesday.
With injuries and suspensions biting into the Burton Albion squad Brewers boss Paul Peschisolido was left few options with his team selection for the game against promotion chasing Oxford United. After a substitute appearance against Accrington Stanley there was a full debut for 19 year old midfielder Jack Dyer alongside Adam Bolder in the centre of midfield. The former Aston Villa youngster replaced John McGrath who started a two match ban for reaching ten yellow cards. Central defender Tom Parkes started his second loan spell in a Brewers shirt alongside Darren Moore with Aaron Webster dropping in to the left back role to compensate for the loss of both Paul Boertien and Scott Malone through injury.
Reverting to a conventional 4-4-2 formation there was also a start for Calvin Zola after his hamstring injury, the on loan Crewe striker linking up with Sam Winnall who has five goals to his name during his loan spell so far.
No sooner had play started and there was a stoppage. Andy Corbettw as caught late by James Constable and required treatment before being able to continue. Oxford quickly carved out the first chance with Ryan Burge putting in a low cross that was cleared on the edge of the box. However the hosts had a huge slice of fortune when they took the lead in the fifth minute.
James Constable saw his shot blocked and the ball fell for Steve MACLEAN whose shot also took a wicked deflection and rolled agonisingly wide of Adam Legzdins and inside the post. It was the sort of start that Albion could ill afford and gave them an immediate mountain to climb.
Tom Craddock picked up the first yellow card of the game for stupidly failing to retreat at a free kick and Tom Parkes only took fifteen minutes to pick up his first booking back in a Brewers shirt with a crunching challenge on Constable.
Burton built there first period of any real pressure on twenty minutes when the previously anonymous Maghoma saw a shot blocked and Penn was also foiled from the rebound with the homer defence not looking overly solid, something to give Albion encouragement.
Maclean was not too far away from a second goal for the hosts in the 23rd minute. Anthony Tonkin was given licence to raid forward down the left and his curling cross was not that far in front of the experienced striker as he ran unchallenged into the penalty area. The former Sheffield Wednesday man was proving a handful and was unlucky not to guide a header on target when he connected with a lovely cross from SImon Heslop.
Albion came close to an equaliser on the half hour mark. Andy Corbett was foule thirty five yards from goal and when Adam Bolder quickly took the free kick he found Calvin Zola who was able to lay the ball off for Sam Winnall to drive a low shot wide of the far post with Ryan Clarke scrambling across his goal.
Jake Wright picked up a yellow card for bringing down Winnall when it looked as if the Wolves youngster had tricked his way past him but Jack Dyers.'s resultant free kick ewas over the head of everyone in the six yard area as Burton continued to press for an equaliser.
Albion were close to an equaliser again in the 40th minute. Jack Dyer, taking all of Albion's set pieces, put in an excellent corner that was met by a firm header from Zola. Keeper Clarke got his hands to the ball but could not hold onto it but managed to do enough to prevent Darren Moore scrambling in the rebound. Another chance came Albion's way moments later when good work from Penn down the right found Maghoma in space in the penalty area but his first touch was awful and the ball bounced away to safety.
Oxford did put the ball in the net again in the closing stages of the half but when Constable latched onto Maclean's astute flick he was already well offside before tucking his shot beyond Legzdins.
Half time: Oxford United 1-0 Burton Albion
Albion immediately had a chance to get themselves on the scoresheet with a free kick on the edge of the box after Jake Wright handled Maghoma's attempted flick. Aaron Webster took the free kick but disappointingly put the ball straight into the hands of a grateful Clarke.
Peschisolido's men continued to push forward and after some neat play on the edge of the Oxford box Jack Dyer blasted a shot goalwards that was blocked ten yards out. Oxford responded by quickly earning themselves a couple of corners which Albion eventually cleared albeit unconvincingly.
Albion's day went from bad to worse in the 56th minute when skipper Darren Moore was shown a straight red card. A long punt forward left him one on one with U's skipper James Constable and once the Oxford man turned inside him and went down in the box there was only one outcome with Tom CRADDOCK confidently despatching the resulting penalty.
The Brewers had to reorganise and it was Maghoma that was sacrificed to allow Ryan Austin to come on and bolster the Albion defence.
It was a necessary change as Albion, a man down found themselves pressed back as the hosts grfew in confidence. Both Constable and Craddock flicked headers across the face of goal in search of a third goal.
Albion brought on Greg Pearson halfway through the second period with Zola coming off having got another 67 minutes under his belt in his recovery from injury.
It was Winnall though who tested Clarke out on seventy minutes, the young striker latching onto Corbett's crossfield ball before shooting into the keepers midriff from the edge of the penalty area.
Craddock had another sight of goal on 72 minutes but could not quite find the finish when Anthony Tonkin was allowed to run in down the left and Legzdins came to the resuce of his defence saving well from Maclean after Craddock and Constable had split the Albion defence wide open. The same two players were involved again moments later from another flowing move and again it was the Brewers stopper who came out on top.
Albion's afternoon was fast becoming a nightmare and it all imploded on them in the 78th minute as Tom Parkes picked up his second yellow of the afternoon for a foul on Constable and Russ Penn picking up his tenth yellow card of the season for his protests.
Tony James had to come on to fill the gap left by Parkes dismissal with Winnall taken off for the closing ten minutes of the match.
Legzdins continued to defy the Oxford attack with another smart save in the 88th minute this time to deny Craddock, shooting from the edge of the area. Another save moments later again denied the former Luton striker but he was able to turn provider in the final minute, taking the ball around the keeper before squaring for MACLEAN to tap into the empty net.
OXFORD: Clarke, Batt, Tonkin, McLaren (Payne, 46), Wright, Heslop, Constable (Hackney, 80), Burge, Worley, Craddock, Maclean. Substitutes: Sangare, Hall, Potter, Hackney, Eastwood, Woodley.
ALBION: Legzdins; Corbett, Moore, Parkes, Webster; Penn, Dyer, Bolder, Maghoma (Austin, 60); Winnall (James, 80), Zola (Pearson, 68). Substitutes: Poole, Walker, Phillips, Preen.
Referee: Mr. D.McDermid (Hampshire)
GOALS: Oxford - Maclean (5, 90), Craddock (57 pen)
Attendance: 7,127 (281 away)